The Great Bubble Barrier won the top prize at Postcode Lotteries Green Challenge 2018 with its successful innovation to stop plastic from getting in the oceans by using a barrier formed by air bubbles continuously flowing upwards. Francis Zoet, one of the four co-founders, was no stranger to the world of entrepreneurship. However, the team had to overcome many challenges to get their business to where it is today.

Investigate the interests of your (potential) partners
We've just launched a huge pilot in collaboration with the city of Amsterdam and the water board of this region. We finally have our first 24/7 operational Bubble Barrier in our own city! It demanded a lot of blood, sweat and tears, but we are happy to say that we finally made it happen. The biggest challenge when working with the government is that authorities often try to avoid uncertainties, while working with a start-up inherently includes uncertainty.

For us the most frequently asked question is: 'how much plastic can the barrier extract from rivers?' Athough we do know how much our Bubble Barrier should be able to collect, there is little knowledge available about the amount of plastic in the Dutch Waters, which makes this question nearly impossible to answer.

The best way to respond is to investigate which risks are most important to the partners you are collaborating with. If you know what matters the most to the other party, maybe theres another way to give them the guarantee they need. You probably cant eradicate all their doubts, so it is also important to find those people within the organisation that are willing to take the leap.’’

Evaluate the way you work together
Before we started this journey we were already close friends. At first, we had to get used to working together in a professional atmosphere. Everyone needed to find the role that fitted best. For us, finding the best way to collaborate is an on-going process. We constantly evaluate and set up new and improved ways of working together.

I usually dive right into new projects. My colleagues often had to push the breaks, because I overlooked certain risks. Having to sound more negative while I could play the enthusiastic role felt uncomfortable for them. As a solution, we always build in a moment for critical review before we move forward with a project.”

Be concise when talking to the media
The project we did in 2017 had already generated quite a few interview requests. This prepared us for all the attention we received after winning the Green Challenge. The most important lesson I learned? If you tell an extensive story, media will cover the unimportant things and not the things you want them to. So only say what is important and leave the rest out. The shorter, the better.

For example, when we started we went into detail about our friendship rather than highlighting our business. In the first interviews published we were then described as three girlfriends with a great idea. We felt a little undervalued: our business is more than just a great ideaand we are not just girlfriends, we are also hardworking entrepreneurs. From then on we decided to discuss every interview beforehand. What do we think is important to mention? How do we want it to be perceived?

Entering the contest can be intense and overwhelming, for anyone considering joining: Take up every moment of it. It might sound cliché, but it is so easy to get caught up in it all. Do not let it overwhelm you, just enjoy!”